Tag Archives: Britain

Germany and refugees – why so different?

Katja from the French association Playing for Change Occitanie (PFCO) explains what her organisation is trying to do to help Syrian refugees in a rural corner of Southwest France.

PFCO has helped two new arrivals from Syria, recently arrived in France, to make the most of their talent for pottery. They hooked them up with local potters and other people motivated to help their fellow humans, sparking off a dynamic sequence of events.

Their goal is to change the negative image that the media has proffered concerning refugees and show they have a lot to offer.

Katja, a native of Germany, contrasts the tiny number of refugees accepted in France and the UK versus the million plus already taken in by her compatriots.

“I think for Germans it’s more realistic. There are more families that have lost somebody in the war or have been refugees themselves. Even the reunification in the 1990s… It was a kind of refugee situation… you still feel it in Germany.

“All these people that have grown up in East Germany, they have been living with the Communist international solidarity as the main frame of all the education they have lived through. All this reflects the awareness of never fascism again.”

“In Germany, we treat that topic a lot whereas in France, that’s never reflected,” she said.

Katja’s own family became refugees at the end of the Second World War, fleeing ahead of the advancing Russian army from what is today part of Poland.

“If people hadn’t helped them, I wouldn’t been here today.

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What might Corbyn and his cohorts do on degrowth?

Jeremy Corbyn Photograph: Rex Shutterstock

Jeremy Corbyn Photograph: Rex Shutterstock

Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty wrote an insightful piece about Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership victory today, adding his usual depth to current events.

It prompted me to chip into the comments thread.

Great work – I invariably finish reading Aditya Chakrabortty’s pieces with a broader, deeper perspective than when I began – I’m grateful for that.

What interests me in addition to the above is the extent to which the debate about economic degrowth can get some much-needed traction.

It’s encouraging that Jeremy Corbyn has already included references to the terrible state of the global environment in his speeches, before and since winning the Labour leadership. His is also very good at joining the dots between issues that are usually treated in silos, bereft of any connection to their causes or consequences.

Will he and his entourage be open enough to make the link between our societies’ political obsession with economic growth and the state of our planet?

Degrowth has become a major preoccupation of mine, drawing together many different elements of our societal dysfunction. Part of my exploration has involved talking and exchanging emails with a social ecological economics professor – Professor Clive Spash – looking for a way to promote the issue of degrowth more effectlvely.

This is an area I intend to report more about, linking it together with Fraudcast News-style thoughts about retooling our failed democracies with the help of revitalised media.

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Not voting is neither stupid nor disrespectful – it’s a tactic

Danzig shot

Below is my answer Jon Danzig’s challenge to respond to his post suggesting Russell Brand’s electoral advice to not bother voting was dumb and disrespectful to those who fought for our right to the ballot. I’d have posted it in the comments thread of his piece but got chucked off for reasons I couldn’t fathom.

Hi Joe – so here’s an answer that’s slightly longer than Twitter’s 140 characters. I said that I get but reject your logic about voting or abstaining, suggesting that you’d missed Russell Brand’s points in the Paxman interview.

How do I get your logic?

– People all over the world have fought over the centuries for universal suffrage – the right of almost all qualifying adults to choose their leaders from a restricted list of candidates in periodic elections.

– Because those people fought, some died, for our right to vote, a person’s decision to vote disrespects their memory and sacrifice.

I don’t in any way disrespect these people’s efforts – in fact, I both venerate them and am hugely grateful for what they did and some still do. I don’t think that’s an argument for me voting or not voting in UK elections.

So how is it that I reject your logic suggesting that I should exercise my right to vote?

For the record, I happen to be resident in France so am ineligible to vote in UK general elections. I do get to vote in communal, regional and EU elections here but not national ones. That’s not my point though.

If I were a British resident – as I have been in the past – I would almost certainly not exercise my right to vote in UK national elections. For the vast majority of UK constituencies where one of the main parties is the likely winner – Conservative, Labour, LibDem – I don’t think there’s any point in voting. There are marginal differences between the three but when it comes for example to economic policy – the bedrock of all policies – they are all variously but solidly pro-austerity. Throw in the UKIP EU dissidents and there’s still no change on that question. So for the vast majority of UK voters, what’s on offer involves choosing between parties who collectively subscribe to pro-austerity thinking – regardless of the fact that these policies aren’t working, that they heap the costs of the financial crisis on ordinary, poorer people when it was speculative capital and over-extended banks that got us into that crisis (NB we bailed out the banks – the real benefits scroungers/cheats in this debate) and because the reality is that “austerity” is in any case a cover for dismantling the public sphere and the welfare state in favour of private interests. That’s to say nothing of these parties’ failure to question the notion of economic growth as a sensible way to run the planet – it’s a recipe for ruining it more like.

I might be persuaded to vote in constituencies where there was a chance for an upset to pro-austerity thinking – perhaps where there were strong Green candidates and chances of their election or SNP candidates in Scotland (though for the latter, it is highly questionable whether the SNP would veer much from the pro-austerity model).

Choosing not to vote for any of these candidates is a political choice or tactic. It is not at all a suggestion that people disengage politically but rather that they ignore or minimise their engagement with the hulabaloo of elections and concentrate their energies elsewhere. Occasionally it might be tactically astute to vote – I wouldn’t hold my breath though.

We need radical political reform in the UK, at the EU level and globally. Nation-state representative democracy has had its time – a few decades of glory for citizens in Western countries in the aftermath of WW2, I’d suggest, but not any more. Real power has long left national parliaments – witness Syriza’s mauling by the German finance minister in the latest round of debt restructuring talks.

This interview with the Spain’s podemos leader Pablo Iglesias is highly instructive on what the future might possibly look like – though no one can say for sure.
For a UK perspective – the 2004 Power Inquiry was an intelligent stab at the question of why people didn’t vote. Though the inquiry failed to get much traction, it left us with a useful account of the then state of alternative democratic experiments around the world.
The work-in-progress bringing up to date of that report is here.
If you speak French – I interviewed a man called Charlie Bauer a few years back. He makes the case for radical democratic reform very powerfully, as you can see at the bottom of this post.
As a fellow journalist – a huge barrier to radical reform are the conventional expressions of our chosen profession. I tackle this in detail in Fraudcast News, which you more about here.

That’s way more than 140 characters.

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Wrist slaps for rich, jail for the poor – suits you democracy

Five major banks have been fined £2bn for rigging foreign exchange markets. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters. Thanks Reuters.

Five major banks have been fined £2bn for rigging foreign exchange markets. Photograph: Damir Sagolj/Reuters. Thanks Reuters.

This is not a complicated post to write, nor need it be very long.

The basic premise is how the UK legal system treats criminal behaviour differently depending on who’s behaviour it is – somewhat at odds with Magna Carta notions of due process – an idea that dates from, err, just a tadge under 800 years ago – not to mention Ancient Greek principles of equality before the law – from 2,500 years ago.

Exhibit A – a powerfully argued Guardian Comment is Free post by columnist Aditya Chakrabortty. The author describes today’s Britain as a place where the poor are forced to steal or beg from food banks while MPs, some of whom fiddled thousands of pounds in expenses at little expense to themselves, create a system where the hungry go to jail.

I can’t disagree with his arguments.

Exhibits B and C – respectively referring to some piffling fines levied against HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, UBS, JP Morgan and Citigroup for cheating their customers and rigging foreign exchange markets, and the serial fraudlence-without-jail of too-big-to-jail poster child J P Morgan.

For all the breathless “record fines headlines” – the penalties levied are so much pocket change for these banks, expunged in a moment’s trading of their shares. And, more important still, no one goes to jail, I mean, how could they?

I will host a local screening of The Corporation this Friday – a film that describes the psychopathic behaviour of companies operating to the inexorable growth demands required under capitalism. Fuelling this machine necessitates the subordination of our systems of mock democracy – the latest US mid-term elections being the latest perfect storm. This promises to be an ongoing story as things stand.

The ancient Greeks nailed this problem too, describing it as oligarchy not democracy. The UK’s Russell Brand has a far keener grasp on this than do his detractors, even if he hasn’t yet identified much in the way of possible solutions. This site – participedia – seems closer to the mark with its listing of experiments in new forms of participatory politics and governance around the world.

And my, don’t we need those?

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Media bias against Scottish independence laid bare

David Patrick

Yet another example of why Twitter is a hugely useful source of information. @DrDavidPatrick turns up as a follower of my @PatrickChalmers account – so I take a look at his profile. Up pops his excellent short film cataloguing and analysing the media coverage – sorry bias – of a year’s worth of newspaper coverage in the run up to the Scottish independence vote.

I highly recommend you invest the 22:35 minutes it takes to watch – not only for some profound insight into the Scottish referendum debate, which is important enough, but far more importantly for an introduction to what is an endemic problem of pro-establishment media bias when it comes to covering any politically important issue you care to name.

This is not a left-right thing as far as ordinary people are concerned. Anyone who gives a damn about their political future, that of the people they love not to mention wider humanity and the planet, needs to wise up to this stuff. This is what Fraudcast News is about – as it says in the book’s strapline – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies.

Unless we take personal responsibility for our political and media literacy – which includes understanding these well-worn but generally poorly-known and highly-effective techniques – we will continue to be kippered all ends up when it comes to having any influence over our lives. This is vital stuff for us all to understand, and to be able to spot, in the propaganda that bombards us daily. What’s more, you won’t, or didn’t, learn this stuff at school.

Dr David Patrick has done a great job for all of us with regard to the referendum – you can read about it all in more detail here – we should all be hugely greatly to him for that.

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Taking the medicine – disappointment in defeat

LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

So Scotland voted No to independence – I’m disappointed.

I became engaged and excited at the prospect of an independent Scotland over the last few months, being a native, having done a reporting trip there, hosted a political debate and followed the campaigning with wonder and amusement at the creativity and verve on display.

The exercise threw up both of the core elements I address in Fraudcast News – how radical improvements to our governance systems might be possible and what sort of media coverage would help those come about.

I thought an independent Scotland might become an exemplar of more accountable, transparent government, a huge improvement on Westminster.

That was the main reason I was, and remain, an enthusiastic advocate for Yes.

My side lost – dang.

So I have to take the medicine I advocated a few months back for those on the losing side, as described in this blog post for the National Collective

This is the essence:

There is an end in sight to the referendum marathon – and a day-after that promises a large chunk of Scotland’s resident voters wake up on the wrong side of the result. The losers will include the angry, the anxious and deeply disappointed, with many seeking someone to blame. The winners’ challenge will be how to celebrate victory without rubbing neighbours’ noses in it. Whatever the outcome, “yes” and “no” voters will be picking up the pieces side by side.

You can read more here.

It is of course not the end of the world – which is why I’m now turning my attention back to climate change issues.

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No holiday in Cambodia but rather catharsis

I watched the extraordinarily moving documentary Brother Number One last night, one I’d meant to catch when covering the recent Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London.

It tells the story of a New Zealander who was captured, tortured and executed by the Khmer Rouge. The film’s great success is to use one person’s tale, a foreigner’s what’s more, to guide the audience into the bigger picture of how the Cambodian regime’s survivors and their families are trying to heal their traumas.

The Khmer Rouge and its followers killed nearly 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979 according to the Human Rights Watch publicity accompanying the film. In 1978, Kerry Hamill and two friends disappeared without trace while sailing from Australia to Southeast Asia. Via Kerry’s youngest brother Rob we learn how a Khmer Rouge cell attacked their boat, killing the Canadian Stuart Glass and arresting Kerry and the Englishman John Dewhirst.

Film-maker Annie Goldson skilfully skirts the potential trap of giving too Western a slant on what is Cambodia’s story. The risk she took paid off thanks to Rob’s resplendent qualities as a human being, ones that transcend all country and ethnicity.

In Rob’s agonised journey to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal he shows great sensitivity towards the Cambodians who survived the dictators’ reign or lost countless family members to their crazed ideology. In court testimony he addresses directly the Tuol Sleng (S-21) prison camp interogator – Kang Kek Iew or Duch – who oversaw his brother’s killing. We hear many Cambodian victims’ stories along the way.

Rob is brutally honest in showing his own grief as he retraces his brother’s last days, collecting snippets of memory from those who’d seen him in prison. He deciphers on camera the impish coded messages Kerry left to his family in the final “confession” preceding his certain execution.

I have wondered before about the true worth of international trials processes for murderous tyrants and the balance to be struck between revenge and justice. This film left me with a deeper understanding of how trials are vital not just as attempts to right wrongs but also as vehicles for victims to explore, express and honour their grief for slain and tortured family members.

The many victims of the 2003 Iraq invasion deserve just such a process though I fear they’ll never get one. Nor will the families of Cambodian civilians killed by the US war-making that helped the Khmer Rouge rise to power.

War crimes tribunals are as yet limited only to the captured tyrants of geopolitical minnows such as Cambodia. Potential candidates from the world’s more powerful states, such as US ex-president George W. Bush and British ex-prime minister Tony Blair, have only their own consciences to wrestle with for now. More’s the pity.

Thankfully this film was not about such men but rather a rare moment for the victims. It is a fantastic piece of work I highly recommend you find time to watch. Bring tissues.

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